Thursday, March 13, 2008

Film Festival 2008

Had the pleasure of attending the 32nd Annual Cleveland International Film Festival again this year. Although I was only able to screen one film - it was a good one. After sharing dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe at Tower City Center, we moved into our seats at the cinemas and began our movie. The theme this year was "HOW WILL IT CHANGE YOU?" and the movie we picked certainly did it's best to inspire that question. We chose to watch TRIAGE: DR. JAMES ORBINSKI'S HUMANITARIAN DILEMMA. This documentary follows Dr. Orbinski's travels back to Rawanda and Somalia where he worked with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which you may also know as Doctors Without Borders. The movie was heart wrenching and thought provoking to say the least. In fact if you chose to skip this post - I understand. You may not be ready to be changed.

We started off in Baidoa, Somalia where the MSF worked to feed the famine victims in 1992-1993. This was during the time that most humanitarian groups had left the area.... if you remember the period or perhaps the movie Black Hawk Down, then you remember that most outsiders were in no way welcome in the area. Dr. Orbinski spoke of the silence of the famine. The people did not ask or beg for food, they did not cry out - they just stared beyond hope. Using the energy they had remaining they struggled to survive long enough to get themselves or their children to what little food was available. The famine itself created almost entirely by the waring factions of their own people. Warlords accepting the food and hoarding it for themselves, or trading it for guns or drugs to continue the fighting. Fighting for what? Some slim perception of power over the "other". If you have the bigger gun? You win. He described an incident where they were on the road delivering supplies in a clearly marked vehicle, when they were stopped. Their friend and driver told them to climb under the vehicle and only secured their escape by showing that day he had the bigger gun.

From Lancet, 1993, 1993 Apr 10;341(8850):935-8: Famine and civil war have resulted in high mortality rates and large population displacements in Somalia. To assess mortality rates and risk factors for mortality, the authors carried out surveys in the central Somali towns of Afgoi and Baidoa in November and December 1992. In Baidoa, the authors surveyed displaced persons living in camps; the average daily crude mortality rate was 16.8 (95% CI 14.6-19.1) per 10,000 population during the 232 days before the survey. An estimated 74% of children under 5 years living in displaced persons camps died during this period. In Afgoi, where both displaced and resident populations were surveyed, the crude mortality rate was 4.7 (3.9-5.5) deaths/10,000/day. Although mortality rates for all displaced persons were high, people living in temporary camps were at highest risk of death. As in other famine-related disasters, preventable infectious diseases such as measles and diarrhea were the primary causes of death in both towns. These mortality rates are among the highest documented for a civilian population over a long period.


After leaving there, his work carried him the Rawanda in the height of the troubles of 1994. He spoke of working to save the lives of people horrifically damaged by their countrymen. Genocide is such an ugly prospect. War of any type is I suppose, but if your warriors face off against my warriors at least there is an agreed upon plan. There is the Geneva Convention. Even if you play fast and loose with the rules as some say we have been, the core of it is still there. You do not hack to pieces a mother and her child with a machete just because their identity card says Tutsi instead of Hutu. A brief history of the region: Rawanda is under Belgian rule prior to 1962 and the Tutsi people were the aristocratic minority, dominating the Hutu peasants. After independence from Belgium, the Hutu majority takes power, violently oppress the Tutsi 2000,000 of whom flee the country. They form an army and invade Rawanda attempting to rule along side the Hutu. This works for a very brief period until chaos ensues and the genocide begins. 800,000 Tutsi are killed by the end of July 1994. The U.N. Security Council votes unanimously to abandon Rawanda. The killing is only stopped by Tutsi rebels invading from other countries. The US does not assist presumably due to the earlier incidents in Somalia in which US troops were tortured.

More foolishness.

They describe Dr. Orbinski as a man with both the deepest optimism and the deepest cynicism. After seeing what he's seen - how could he exist otherwise?

Yes - I think this movie changed me.

I don't think it says much for me that rather than stay for the panel discussion, we went to the Ritz to have drinks instead. I just couldn't take in any more. Apparently having a nice meal and then watching a movie was too much. How do we continue to go about or normal, American, isolationist, self-entitled, gluttonous lives after seeing even 88 minutes of this horror.

I am still trying to decide how to make changes in my own life which could possibly be relevant to changing a world which is capable of such horror. We let it happen, and mostly stood by. It continues in other disguises today throughout the globe.

Dr. Orbinski is no longer with MSF, but has co-founded another organisation, Dignitas International. If all else fails, as Americans we could at least throw money at them right?

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